Tuesday, April 5, 2016

BACKPACK SQUAD: CAGAYAN... HERE WE COME!

THE BIG ADVENTURE....


This is one BIG adventure for the Perez family, when we started our journey to Cagayan.  We weren’t sure if our MPV, which just had its automatic transmission replaced, can weather the 12hour  (minimum)  drive;   We also weren’t sure if we can survive the trip with two dogs on board;  But we just kept our fingers crossed and to the North we drove....



We left the house at 3:30am, March 20.  We wanted to be ahead of the traffic rush.  The drive up north was pretty smooth... but there were LOTS of road construction as we approach Sta. Fe.  We had brunch in Nueva Ecija.  We cannot all eat at the same time.  Hubby had to stay with the dogs.  Katniss was a bit stressed, didn’t want to eat. 


Our next stop was a picture taking session in Dalton Pass.  It’s been 11 years since we last visited Tuguegarao, and its been the same number of years when we had our picture taken here.  Dalton Pass/ Balete pass is the highest point where a traveler can have access / pass through the Sierra Mountain Range- considered as the largest mountain range in Luzon & in the Philippines. Geographically, it is the boundary of Nueva Ecija & Nueva Vizcaya. It is also the gateway to the Region 2 provinces.  





Our next stop was in Isabela for a late lunch. 

We arrive in Tuguegarao at 5:30pm, after 14 gruelling hours on the road.  We were so tired, but were excited to see the family.  I had an upset stomach, and a starting headache, so I chose to sleep early, for the next day, we are off to Sta. Ana.

 STA. ANA, CAGAYAN

We left Tuguegarao at 6:30am, and after 3 hours of drive, we reached Sta. Ana Cagayan.  We chose a shortcut, turning right after Magapit bridge in Lallo.  It shortens the trip a good 30minutes.




We passed by our resort, Costa Carina beach club, just to inform them that we have arrived.  Because it was too early to check in, we decided to go check Anguib beach and fix our schedule with the boat tour in San Vicente port.

We drove for another 20 minutes to Anguib.  We were excited because the internet calls it the “boracay of the north”.  But as we entered the road to Anguib, two men stopped us, saying we have to pay an entrance fee going there. We said, we were just checking out the beach, and if we didn’t like it, we will not stay.  But they insisted that we pay, 20 pesos per pax.  I know its not much, but what’s it for exactly.  What if we chose not to go to Anguib, and instead go to the next beach which is Nangaramoan?



So we paid the two men, and we didn’t go to Anguib, because we were informed, that just by checking it out, we will have to pay another 100 per pax.  We drove straight to Nangaramoan, and found out what we were expecting.  It was low tide at around 11am.  When its low tide, you have to walk further to have a dip.  Around, 10meters.  In the scorching heat, that is tiring.  At low tide, we saw that there were lots of sea weeds.  So we decided to just swim in the beach of Costa Carina.

On our way back, we checked the Sta. Ana public Market.  And was surprised, because knowing that Sta. Ana was a fishing community, there were no decent fishes or seafood for sale.  When I chatted with one of the vendors, she informed me that the best seafood, especially crabs were being delivered directly to the “casinos”, what’s left are the “tira-tira”.  Not-so-good supply are distributed in the public market.  How sad....  I remembered my experience in Palawan.  The freshest seafood are available to tourists – whether you are billeted in a class A resort or just an inn.  Same with the market of Boracay.  How sad......

After checking out the public market, we went to San Vicente port.  We asked for the available tours for next day.  





   

Being a seasoned budget traveller, and having availed of the boat tours of Boracay, Coron, Puerto Princesa, El Nido, Bohol and Camiguin... I have to admit that the tours of Sta. Ana was expensive.  Why?  Because you have to pay per destination.  (roll out per destination).   Or you can choose the P3500  Anguib-Punta Verde-Cape Engano special trip.  I asked, what if I would just like to visit Cape Engano and Anguib?  The operator said, then you have to ride the boat to Cape Engano.  Go back to this port. And ride another boat to Anguib  (or to other destinations for that matter).  Huh???   Isn’t that a waste of time?  In Coron, we got to explore 4-5 destinations/islands/wrecks for a much cheaper rate.  Oh well....

So we decided to get the Cape-Engano-Punta Verde tour.  For the simple reason that in Punta Verde there is a marine sanctuary.  This tour costs 2500.  But that’s not all.  Because we opt to do the 2hour trek from Cape Engano to Punta Verde, we have to get a trek guide for 300 pesos.  1 guide for every 4 pax.  If you are 5 in a group, you are required to get another guide.  And there’s a day pass fee of 50pesos per pax for entering Palaui island.  And, if you want to snorkel in Punta Verde, you are required to pay a reef guide 300 pesos per 2 pax.

Here’s the deal... I respect everyone’s right to earn.  And I know that these fees will be used (hopefully) for further development of the sites of Sta. Ana and Palaui.  But as a tourist, we felt that the expenses are UNLIMITED.  I would have appreciated it if they just charge an ALL-IN fee for the tour of Cape Engano and Punta Verde, entrances, reef guide, trek guide fee included.  Because that’s how the tour guides of Coron handles it.  They will charge you a flat rate, and they will be the ones to pay for entrance fees, environmental fees, etc. 

After settling all the fees, we ate in Dampa Seafood Restaurant within the premises of Sta. Ana public market.  Again, this is a BIG disappointment.  We ordered shrimps.  Buttered shrimps.  When the order came, it was shrimps in chili sauce.  I don’t eat anything spicy.  When we confronted the lady, she was apologetic.  But when the dish came back, it was the same shrimps, now swimming in soy sauce and sugar, just to eliminate the chili taste.  Arrgh!  Bad service!

After lunch, we went back to Costa Carina.  And after a bit of confusion to the room that we booked, we finally got settled.  Hubby was developing a migraine and slept the entire afternoon.  While the 3 of us explored the beach.  The sand was light gray.  The waves were huge.  The water was cold and refreshing.  But the most exciting part, we had the beach all to ourselves.  No other tourists swimming :)    A piece of paradise indeed.   We swam until sunset.





We had dinner in this cozy nice place – Country Inn.  This was the saving grace of our Cagayan Trip.  The food was excellent, they had crabs, we ate in a hut by the beach, as we watched the horizon from sunset to night.  The accessories of the hut has a very nice vibe into it.  And the food, really affordable.  Finally, a relaxing experience to end our Sta. Ana adventure day 1.
















AT LAST!


PALAUI ISLAND ADVENTURE 

Went to San Vicente Port at 7:30am, armed with out packed lunch, snorkeling gears and loads of energy and excitement for the day.  We rode a medium sized boat  (bigger than the one we rode in Zambales and smaller than the boats of Palawan).  But 10 minutes into the travel, we were welcomed by HUGE waves.  And it was a 45minute boat ride.  As we went farther and farther, the waves were becoming bigger.  Exaggeration aside, I estimated it to be 1 meter high.  And yes, the travel seemed to be longer than 45 minutes because I was afraid.  But the teeners with hubby were all smiles during the boat ride.   




CAPE ENGANO AS SEEN FROM THE BOAT


I was thankful when we finally reached the shore.  The waters were clear, the shoreline was a combination of white sand and small stones. 




We walked to the caretaker of Palaui to register.  We were given our trek guide.  And up we trekked Cape Engano.





It was a short 15minute walk.  We had a lot of stop overs because the scenery was breath taking, we had to pose for pictures.  










And when we reached the top – the view was fab.  It was just as I expected.  It was my own sweet preview of Batanes.  The lighthouse was built in 1888 and it overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Babuyan Channel.  



  


Behind the lighthouse, the picturesque Dos Hermanas can be seen.  I would love to stare at this view forever! 










After exploring Cape Engano, it was time for the exciting 2 hour trek to Punta Verde.  The man at the foot of Engano told us, by the way we looked, we could do it in 1.5 hours hahaha!   Armed with bottled waters, and biscuits off we go to Punta Verde.


THE TREK

THE START OF THE TREK

·      

The uphill climb was exhausting.  I had to constantly stop to catch my breath
·        after the 20 minute uphill climb, it was all downhill after.  Whew. 



  
ONE OF THE MANY RESTING SPOTS



After 30 minutes, we reached the start of the beach trek.  We needed to walk the shoreline, with its dried seaweeds, low tide water and scorching heat.  And no trees to offer shade.  For 1 hour.  Waaaaa!


Look at the picture below.  The start of the shoreline is where the Palaui signage picture was taken. Can you imagine the shoreline stretch that we trekked?

SAND CRAB TRAP


·      I had to admit, I almost asked the guide if we could just ride the boat to Punta Verde.  My feet were giving up.  But we signed up for this adventure, so I have no choice but to continue walking.

LONGER ROUTE, 7.5 KM
·
·      You can just imagine my happiness when I saw the the hanging bridge.




Upon reaching Punta Verde, the very first thing I did was to buy halo halo.  For 15 pesos.  With unsweetened macaroni shells.  Huh?

Then we ate our packed lunch.  After a few minutes, we asked for a reef guide.  And because there were 4 of us, they wanted us to get 2 reef guides, but I told them we will not snorkel all at the same time.  True enough, when the boat stopped by the marine sanctuary, the BIG WAVES were there again.  We had a hard time snorkeling.  The teeners stayed for a good 20 minutes.  Kristan felt cold, to the point of shivering.  Soleil felt dizzy because of the waves.  And when I tried it, after 10 minutes, I can’t breathe properly, when the waves hit my chest  :(



                                       

But in that short time we spent snorkeling, we were happy with the marine life in Punta Verde.  The corals were alive, moving and breathing.  The clown fishes were big.  So many colorful corals and fishes.  Sadly, I didn’t get to explore other parts of the sanctuary.

We left Punta Verde at 3pm.  We returned to Costa Carina to unwind.  Teeners swam and played volleyball with Papa.  For the second time around, I prayed for a nice sunset.  But it really disappears just before touching the horizon....


Ate dinner again in Country Inn.  We just wanted to have a food trip on our last night in Sta. Ana.  We ordered pizza, kilawing tanigue, burger, calamares, coffee latte and mojitos.  The bill:  1,100.  Good food, good price.

THE VERDICT

1.   If you DO decide to visit Sta. Ana Cagayan, you have to be ready to spend more.  Bring CASH.  There are no ATMs in town.

2.   Plan your itinerary well.  DO a lot of research of islands to explore.  Reserch also for "tide" schedule.  Remember that you drove or rode the bus from Manila to Tuguegarao for at least 14 hours, and another 3 hours to Sta. Ana... 
   
3.   DO bring your trusted cameras.  Cape Engano is one memorable place to take pictures with friends and family.

4.   If you are extremely afraid of WAVES, DON'T dare go to Palaui Island.  Stay in the beach of Sta. Ana instead.

5.  I would love to help the local tourism of Sta. Ana, to design more tourist-friendly packages.     A different package for different target audience --- diving/snorkeling enthusiasts;   food trippers;   trekkers/climbers;   backpackers who want to camp out; families with small kids;  In this way, you'll get the best of what the island has to offer. Especially when I learned that the people of Palaui Island, has no source of income from July-December (typhoon months)  when there are NO tourists on the island.  They have to lure the tourists during summer.  And they have to make sure tourists have a pleasant experience to keep them coming back.